It has been years since I visited eastern DRC. Some memories fade, of course. Things like names of people, hospitals, how to get from here to there blur with time and distance. Holly asked if I'd like to post something about my time there as I was leaving, and I assented, but I haven't, and I did not put my finger on why until today. Eastern DRC is a complicated place, full of contradictions. My emotions are the same, and I claim that in some ways they are still raw from a place I left almost three years ago.
By profession I'm a physical therapist. During my time in DRC I agreed to do some training with the “mamas” at the orphanage as well as see how I could be available to a group of disabled adults. I had no idea what I was getting into. The day before I went I was told there could be up to 100 people waiting for me the next day. I did the math and figured out I'd have approximately four minutes per patient if I were to see them all. (Obviously, that didn't happen.) But what threw me completely off kilter was not the time constraints or the sheer numbers. What undid me were the effects of poverty.
There was one man in particular whose image remains clearer. He was older, probably in his sixties or so. There was something wrong with his leg. Unlike so many people I saw over a couple of days, his injury did not appear to be due to polio. He had a stick to use as a cane and limped while he walked. It was likely an arthritic leg that was painful and didn't move well. He asked me for money and I said that's not what I could offer him that day. I gave him some exercises to help strengthen his leg. As he was leaving he again asked for money. I declined. Then he said “But I'm poor.”. It's true. He was homeless and struggling to survive. My exercises didn't meet his need. He walked out of the makeshift tent and I lost it. Let's just say there was uncontrollable sobbing for a long time. The people with me (a translator and someone taking notes) were surprised. But the need, the terrible need, broke this dam in my heart and shook me to my core.
I, who have so much, can have the best of intentions when I bring my expertise to a situation. But unless I humbly pause and ask what is needed, what the people want, how we can partner together for the best outcome, I am not helping the situation. The truth is that instead of sending me back to DRC I'd send polio vaccines and an orthopedic surgeon to help those with club foot at birth. How does this fit into a blog that focuses on adoption in DRC? I challenge us to humbly ask the same questions:
• What is needed in this situation?
• What do the people want?
• How can we partner together for the best outcome?
Ultimately, I tried to listen. I'm the person who sent Laurent the few hundred dollars for the bike. But that makes it sounds all neat and tidy. There are no quick and easy answers to all the pressing issues in DRC, and if I were in the same situation again I think I'd sob and still not know what to do. However, I trust that humility and listening are good first steps for all of us.